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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

White House Drops Appeal on National Forests Case

By H. JOSEF HEBERT/The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 8, 2008

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration has dropped its appeal of a 2007 court decision that had overturned new management rules for 191 million acres of national forests. Opponents to the rules had argued they weakened protection for wildlife and the environment to the benefit of the timber industry. The Justice Department notified the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week that it was withdrawing its appeal, saying that the other parties, including the timber industry, would do likewise. "We are glad the Bush administration has thrown in the towel," said Trent Orr, an attorney for Earthjustice, one of the environmental advocacy groups that had challenged the new forest management rules in court. The court papers, filed Monday, were made available to reporters Tuesday by Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center, both of which were involved in the case. Last March, a federal district court in California found that the U.S. Forest Service had bypassed required environmental reviews and provisions under the Endangered Species Act in its overhaul of the management rules, including changes in logging limits, for its national forests. U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton, acting on a lawsuit filed by environmentalists, prohibited the further implementation of the revised rules which were issued in January, 2005. The lawsuit argued that the new forest management plan illegally eased logging restrictions and removed a number of mandatory protections that had been in the previous management regulations, while also curtailing public participation in developing management plans. "The good news is they've dropped the appeal," said Orr in a telephone interview. But he said that doesn't mean the issue is put to rest. Last August, the U.S. Forest Service said it was developing revised rules that it hoped would pass legal scrutiny. "They're just kind of doing the same thing over again. I suspect the court won't be any more friendly to this version," said Orr, predicting further lawsuits. A spokesman for the Forest Service did not return a phone call, seeking comment.

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